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Uruguay is planning on selling marijuana for $1 a gram, or three joints for the same price. The South American nation recently became the first to legalize marijuana in the world.

So, why would a government charge so little for the most widely used drug in the world?

It is because legalizing marijuana in Uruguay has nothing to do with wanting marijuana legalized. It has nothing to do with the effects of marijuana itself. Instead, it has everything to do with the violence that accompanies marijuana and the black market in which it is sold.

As an illegal drug, marijuana can only be bought via illicit means. Those illicit means usually carry high penalties for violating the law, which similarly raises the costs of the goods themselves. For those willing to risk their lives and their freedom, it is a life and death matter. By making marijuana readily available for a cheap price, the drug cartels—it is hoped—will be priced out of the market, and they will simply go away.

There are some issues with this, though.

First of all, as Uruguay is now the first to make legal steps towards legalizing marijuana, there is no proof that the means used by Uruguay will be effective at curbing violence. Sure, on paper, everything looks to be in good working order, but that does not mean that the application of the policy will be effective.

It is also just as likely that the cartels will use their influence and violence to manipulate the markets. Just because the cartels no longer have the market for marijuana does not mean they are suddenly going to walk away. No, if anything, they will find new avenues, and with human trafficking becoming a staple of the cartels’ income, it stands to reason that their human trafficking efforts will rise to offset the losses in the marijuana market.

Further, it is entirely possible that the cartels will simply randomly inflict frequent, brutal violence until the law is repealed. If the aim is to drive down cartel violence, and it instead increases the randomness, frequency, and brutality of the violence instead, it is likely that people will choose the cartels over the new laws.

Finally, there is the underlying unknown of how this will affect drug addiction rates in Uruguay. Ending the violence is a noble cause, but if the rate of addiction goes up, then really, how much good is it doing if people are still losing their lives due to addiction? If the end result is the same, and people are dying because of the lifestyle, then any positive impact also has to be offset by the amount of harm it does as well. Just because something is less harmful does not mean it is automatically good.

Now, that obviously, we do not wish any pain or suffering upon anyone. The goal of the Uruguayan government is admirable, but we question how effective these measures will be at curbing both the violence and marijuana and drug addiction as a whole.

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